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Three-and-a-Half Things I Learned at The Brandery’s Demo Day

LPK just completed its second year of partnering with The Brandery, “a seed stage consumer marketing venture accelerator” that links startups with brand building expertise to help them get better quicker. On Tuesday I joined a group of more than 300 (including over 100 potential investors) at The Brandery’s Demo Day to hear pitches from the eight 2011 startups.

Here’s what I learned while watching these entrepreneurs do their thing:

1. It’s (almost) never too late for a better idea. Quick story: about five weeks ago I walked up Cincinnati’s Vine street to The Brandery offices and met with a husband-wife couple—he deliberate, she feisty—running Shoptimize. They shared the business strategy behind their grocery inventory product and we had a great chat about brand building, identity design and agency-client relations. Fast-forward to Demo Day … as I scanned the list of the day’s presenters, Shoptimize was nowhere to be found. Around 10:30 the familiar faces of Michael and Megan Wohlschlaeger appeared at the front of the room to pitch StyleZEN. Wait, what? Well, turns out Shoptimize had become StyleZEN. Later, I would learn that a combination of market and mentor feedback pushed them to reimagine their entire proposition just four weeks ahead of the big day. Michael explained how The Brandery’s 12-weeks-and-pitch model informed the dramatic move to Cincinnati.com’s EnterChange blog: “The forced acceleration makes you make tough decisions. If you didn’t have that deadline, you could let it languish.”

Learnings: Face reality and adapt on-the-fly. Make a decision and commit. Do it at warp speed.

2. Insights still drive innovation. For those of us in the brand business, there is plenty of teeth gnashing around the subject of insights: How do we find them? Are there any new ones? Do they even exist? Hearing these insight-fueled pitches—often informed by intensely personal experiences—reminded me how many needs there are that still remain unmet and how much opportunity there is for brands to truly make a difference in people’s lives. A simple way to split rent and track payments among multiple roommates? Yes, please. A platform that will extinct paper receipts? Need that. A social network for my stuff? Sign me up and friend me while you’re at it.

Learnings: We haven’t solved all the world’s problems quite yet. Insights—they’re out there. Allow utility to drive development.

3. Present with a plan. Limited to a scant 10 minutes of talk time to pique the interest (and the wallet) of the venture capitalists in attendance, each Brandery startup had a tight, well-rehearsed pitch. The best of these were able to weave together stories, statistics, opportunities and a bit of humor to engage, educate and entertain. Roadtrippers and ChoreMonsters in particular used well-designed info-graphics to supplement their commentary and strengthen their case. It was clear these startups had been well-coached as each slide had a specific reason to be and a role in moving the narrative forward. Best of all, there was zero dependence on the ultimate corporate crutch—the deck full of bullet points. For those of us who present on a daily basis, we could stand to employ more than a little of the discipline and planning on display at Demo Day.

Learnings: Know your story. Use images to support (not supplant) the script. Ditch the bullets.

3.5 Twitter is here to stay. Confession: it was pretty much love at first sight for me and Twitter. I still see the fall of 2008 when we first met—bathed in soft, sepia tones in my mind’s eye—so I didn’t need to be convinced that the platform had staying power (that’s why it only gets a half). But I think even the toughest critic would have been swayed more than a bit by the keynote presentation from Twitter’s Adam Bain. From its role in spreading the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death, to enabling riot cleanups in London, to getting a first glimpse of the latest Burberry collection as it hits the catwalk, Twitter has shrunk the earth, allowed people to connect with what is meaningful in their life and delivered a quantum leap in the ability for brands to engage with consumers.

Learnings: Real time is the new black. You are what you tweet. Technology makes individuals larger and the world smaller.

For a great round-up on the start-ups and their pitches, check out this report from EnterChange.

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